It is February 1, 2019, and I am in the McMichael Gallery north of Toronto. I make my way through the rooms and hallways full of art, and find myself passing by a group of young school kids sitting in front of a painting by Emily Carr. There is an adult speaking to them, a gallery guide perhaps. The painting is of a deep forest and the guide talks about the famous Canadian painter and the landscape here that she has captured. The guide asks the kids to imagine what it would feel like to be in the scene there hanging on the wall before them. A little boy raises his hand and answers, “Scary.” The guide asks why it would be scary, and the boy responds with complete innocence and sincerity, “because you’d be in a painting.” I chuckle at the response in the moment, but during time since I have thought deeper into the unintentional brilliance of the boys’ words; the very idea of finding yourself living within an archetypal frame, within a mental geography bounded by your ancestral load, your present environment, and the people you interact with both those in your family unit, and the acquaintances you meet while living your life: are we trapped, and if so, can we free ourselves? It is the latter, the power of a freeing experience that illuminates, gives gravity to whatever the painting–the parameters of your significant, possibly challenging paradigm. It’s like getting a drink of cool water when you didn’t realize that you were thirsty.
Switch to a lovely day in August, 2023. I have been invited to join the mother of my son’s fiancé and three of her friends to get together for a walk along a Lake Ontario beach, and then back to a house for dinner. One lady I’ve met before, like her very much and she is driving us from the mother’s house, to the dinner near the lake. On the way, the mother goes into a store to pick up a cake for the evening desert, while the driver and I go into the LCBO to pick up wine for our host. I’m in a very good mood. I notice a young man at the cash who has a remarkable, full head of hair that looks like a beautiful swept spiral. I compliment him on it. He blushes a little. I ask if I can touch it. He says, “Yeah.” I do, and it is beautiful! Now my driving friend and I are exiting the store, and we see the mother approaching the now open sliding doors with the cake in her hands as if stepping onto a stage. I tell her that I just touched a man’s hair, and then note how funny it is to imagine her walking from the store across the good-sized parking lot with the cake. A man parked in a truck next to us overhears and says, “Welcome to Oshawa!” I am delighted.
We arrive at the host’s house, then we drive down to the beach for our walk. I begin to feel this freedom; talking with new people, not feeling that I have to bow and scrape or tap dance for a change. I am able to be present, to embody the wisdom I have accrued over the previous six decades, so do lots of listening, ask questions, then share a story when it is appropriate. There are seeds here of wholeness and this is new to me. I am aware that my normal reflex has been to step aside and defer, always defer, but here I begin to step into my potential–my better self. Dinner, and there we all are seated at the table, and everyone is in a good mood; everyone wants to be there. For me, I realize that part of what’s freeing is that there are no family members sitting with us complete with their usual projections and judgments, triggering me with my own. There are no acquaintances who tend to condescend and belittle; are sometimes mean for reasons I cannot peg. It feels good to be away from them, yes, a freedom.
The question for me is, in which painting I am stuck? I know that it’s one of my own composition, choice of colour pallet and frame. I likely thought it was the best I could do at the time of its conception. I’m tired of it now, but feel stuck. It is scary to think that I might be trapped here, that I might not be able to make things happen so that I can leave. Even the thought of another winter in this building makes me sad, but oddly enough there is a gift to this: In Jungian terms, the very process of longing can hint at the good working of the transcendent function, so an evolution in the psyche and I’ll take it. To not feel longing is to be either content, or dead. Oddly enough, ideas of longing also hint at an inner acknowledgement of the potential to belong: David Whyte, poet, author and speaker, calls longing “divine discontent.” He also writes, “Loneliness is a single malt taste of the very essentiality that makes conscious belonging possible. The doorway is closer than we think. I am alone: therefore, I belong.” To feel uncomfortable, to sense things are not as they should be is a clue worth noting. This is how we avoid complacency and the wasting of days. Having dinner with new folks was rejuvenating, a flare send-up that change is warranted, even necessary. I feel capable of so much more and, in finding myself trapped and suffocating here, I understand that I must break out, but how? And to what? What is my unique calling that summoned the longing in the first place?
I have not been back to that gallery since that day in 2019. Since then, covid came. I tended my elderly mother, helped her move in October 2022, and now it is August 2023 as I write this and the world is on fire, a hurricane season is starting. I am not who I was a decade ago. I am not who I was since the gallery visit. I am not even who I was last October. I feel I am experiencing rapid psychological evolution, and just in time. I feel that my calling has to do with my potential toward wholeness, and in service, the sharing of that process. The details are still stuck with me in my painting, but not for much longer. The show is ending. “The centre cannot hold.” It’s time for something new, or nothing at all.